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Print Perfect In Media’s Future

How print media in India, fuelled by regional publications, is defying global norm

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In the business of media, perception, it seems, is more important than reality. Print media platforms have faced the shorter end of that stick in recent times. Over the last few years, the focus on the significance of digital has occurred, on more occasions than one, at the cost of print. And for any organisation that did not have a strong digital plan or a growth story, the future was bleak. However, 2017 readership trends and the sheer numbers indicate that print in India has fought back and continues to be a medium on the rise.

A closer look at the media landscape reiterates that the rapid digital shift is driven in part by the growing number of connected consumers, the expansion of mobile connectivity and massive broadband adoption. This trend is likely to continue to gain momentum. The result will be that the growth and adoption of digital will have a structural effect on almost all media platforms which, in turn, will re-jig the business models too. The rise of digital has led to disruption but the Indian print industry, driven by demographic changes, growth of language newspapers, hyper-localisation and technology, is beating norms.


Digital is growing irrespective of the growth in print, explains Varghese Chandy, the vice-president of marketing and advertising sales at Malayala Manorama. “If you look at Kerala, the regional press has been growing steadily. In the last three years, we have grown by almost 6 per cent and the growth will continue for the next few years. At the same time, online is also growing. I won’t say because the online is growing the print will go down, that is not the case in a market like Kerala,” he says.

Trends in traditional newspaper readership in India shows greater affinity for Indian language newspapers. In addition to growing literacy, a key factor contributing to this is the growth in tier 2-3 cities.

To put things into perspective, in 2016, the average cover prices for English newspaper saw a minimal increase in the range of 2-5 per cent, for Hindi newspapers, the increase was in the range of 10-12 per cent and for other regional language newspapers, the hike was 14-18 per cent depending on the market.

According to Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), there has been 8.76 per cent CAGR in Hindi newspaper circulation for the last decade. ABC also states that unlike most other countries, India’s paid-for daily circulation is growing. The circulation growth of paid-for dailies grew at 12 per cent in 2015 for India, compared to a 12 per cent decline in the UK, 6 per cent fall in Australia and a 2 per cent contraction in the US. Within India itself, indicating a strong growth in Hindi press, the North Zone showed an annual average growth of 7.83 per cent. It was followed by South India at 4.95 per cent, West zone at 2.81 per cent and East at 2.63 per cent as per the report.

“Regional print will continue growing as the potential is immense while English print will make sense when coupled with digital. So, for any English publication an add-on digital presence is paramount while regional will grow on its own steam,” says Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG Mediabrands.

According to the Pitch Madison Advertising Outlook Report 2017, print advertising grew at 7 per cent in 2016, with dailies registering a growth of 8 per cent and magazines saw negative growth. The report further stated that in 2017, the print advertising market is expected to grow by 9.5 per cent to come close to Rs 20,000 crore, with dailies and regional publications leading the growth.

Demonetisation did lead to a dip in adex (advertising expenditure) briefly but the growth in print advertising bounced back with sectors such as automobile, education, government, lifestyle, FMCG and consumer durables spending big on print. Industry analysts are of the opinion that the best is yet to come for Indian language media on the back of India’s steady economic progress and socio-economic growth of tier 2-3 towns and cities, which also continue to be India’s growth engines.

The underlying factor here is that print has an important role to play despite the growth in digital. Some media houses find a clear demarcation of roles between the two platforms. And though digital is the medium that comes naturally to the younger readers, print is a habit that is encouraged. The print positioning is unique compared to its digital and broadcast counterparts. The biggest factor in this differentiation is the print’s ability to offer contextual information and in-depth analysis.

In the regional language media, the ratio between advertising revenue and reader revenue or circulation has always been healthy, unlike in the national media, where the circulation revenue was almost miniscule when compared to ad revenue, as per the joint managing director of Mathrubhumi, Shreyams Kumar.

“As the traditional forms of advertising have been cash heavy, brands and advertisers were initially pushed towards digital platforms. Advertisers are increasing their spends on digital advertising but the quantum of gain in digital does not offset or match the loss in print ad volume. This is true both for national and regional print,” adds Kumar. He reiterates that digital has seen favourable push. Where regional print advertising grows at a moderate rate of 3–5 per cent, digital revenue is at a low volume, but shows significant growth, up by 25 per cent. “But the lion’s share of digital advertising growth goes to Facebook and Google. That being said, the spread of fake news through social media and partisan people pushing their agenda, sometimes based on disinformation, directly through social media is troubling the digital medium. Reliable journalism and trusted news source represents a business opportunity,” says Kumar.

“To say people are reading online and therefore the print is declining is only part of the problem. It is like looking at the issue from a purely myopic perspective,” comments Anant Nath, Editor, The Caravan & Executive Editor, Delhi Press Group.

According to Nath, in most cases, online reading is geared towards breaking news while the print publications aim to engage. “Online as a medium has many distractions and it does not offer a much focused reading experience. Moreover, India with its sheer population offers a good scope for growth and sustainability of print. Print will always be important. It will co-exist and will finally find equilibrium,” he adds.

While market conditions in developed countries mean that ad revenue and per capita sales of newspaper copies have been drying up over the past two decades, the Indian business model of print media is still intact. As per Pitch Madison Ad Outlook 2017, print media contributes a significant portion to the total ad revenue in India, accounting for over 41 per cent in 2015-16, whereas TV contributed 38 per cent and digital accounted for 11 per cent of total ad revenue.

India is one of the few markets where dialects, tastes and preferences and even lifestyles change every 150 km. As print players in India added to their infrastructure and ability to localise, this too became a factor favouring of regional language publications. This is further seen in the fact that within print media, Indian language newspapers have grown phenomenally at 66 per cent in 2016 and is expected to reach 71 per cent by 2021. Hyper-localisation has encouraged multi-edition newspapers with publishers syndicating national content with regional news and expanding their content diversity with supplements.

Speaking about the growth of regional language press and the way forward for print players in India, Pradeep Dwivedi, CEO at Sakal Media Group, says that they remain bullish at the prospect of print for the next 4-5 years.  “We are actually quite excited at the prospect of growth for print combined with digital. We see a significant value in the minds of our readers for improvised content appealing to various demographics and our ability to take out new features and engage with the audiences in an innovative way. Also, the fact that the credibility of TV news is getting challenged by fake news, etc., will only reinforce the credibility of the printed news as a medium.”

Dwivedi makes a valid point and the circulation figures reinforce the importance of print media. If we look at the official data, there are over 16,000 newspapers and about 94,700 periodicals listed with the Registrar of Newspapers for India, an increase of nearly 5,400 publications in 2015–16. Over 610 million copies of these publications were circulated between April 2015 and March 2016. The largest circulated daily — Anandabazar Patrika (Bengali) — distributes 1.15 million copies, while the largest circulated multi-edition daily was Dainik Bhaskar (Hindi) with over 6.6 million copies in distribution. The second largest circulated daily was Hindustan Times (English) in Delhi with over 992,000 copies read by many more readers and the largest multi-edition English daily was The Times of India with 4.4 million copies distributed. Publications in Hindi, India’s national language, claimed the highest circulation with 314.5 million copies per day.


According to veteran journalist, political and social commentator and writer, Alok Mehta, print journalism has its own irreplaceable character which cannot be dented with the rise of digital. “Print journalism has the advantage of engaging the reader in an in-depth way. This is not the case with TV and digital and this in itself is a big plus that the print publishers can leverage. However what is critical is how you ultimately present those stories to the readers and how you adjust to the demands of new marketing,” says Mehta.

The demographical changes in India also help. Literacy level across states has seen an upswing including literacy among women. This has contributed to growth in readership as more people are being initiated into the world of reading and writing. The fastest growth in newspaper circulation was in States with strongest growth in literacy. India’s literacy rate stands at 74 per cent with rural literacy rate at 68.9 per cent and urban literacy rate at 84.9 per cent. With more than 65 per cent of India’s population in the rural areas, there has been a visible shift in the rural population over the past five decades as they become one of the most influential consumer groups with increased income levels.

For Mitrajit Bhattacharya, President & Publisher, Chitralekha Group, the regional press will drive the growth of print in the coming decade. “The print story is not going to slowdown in India. At least not in the near future and it is purely because of the number of new literates that are coming in the fold,” he says.

Much of these trends is expected to dominate the next decade too. The perceived credibility of print is fuelling its continued growth in India. Perhaps the one place that print has failed is in communicating this growth story to its readers.  

‘English press losing out as metro markets are already saturated’
For Sanjay Gupta, CEO of Jagran Prakashan, regional press is witnessing a new phase of growth and this  is likely to continue for the next few years. In an exclusive conversation with RUHAIL AMIN, Gupta explains the factors that are driving this growth. Edited excerpts:

Q: What kind of trends are you observing in regional readership?
Readership is a function of circulation and related to the population in a particular zone. Also, it all depends on the pull of the product. Many newspapers push their circulation up but if they do not have the first recall then readership does not reflect. Luckily for Jagran, the kind of products we offer, we do get a very strong readership pull.
Q: How is the rise of digital changing the game for regional print players?
Digital is a big catalyst for regional press at the moment. It is not at all impacting us in print. It is just the way marketers are approaching to market their products, that aspect is changing. Luckily languages own most of the markets in India apart from the 5-6 metro towns. Traditionally markets were only these 5-6 metro towns and, therefore, there was a huge skew of advertising towards them. But it has changed in the last 10-12 years and it is changing very fast. The southern States reaped this benefit first and now for the last 7-8 years the northern States have also started reaping the benefits of the growing markets. Once any marketer looks at increasing their marketshare, they have to approach it in all the facets – TV, print and digital. Today digital is a big tool, which they are using, but is it affecting anybody? I don’t think so.

Q: How do you see the future of print players in India, especially the regional press?
If you see, English press is losing out because metro markets are already saturated. I think India was always divided into two broad categories: Bharat and India. India included the English speaking community and it became aspirational for consumers 30 years ago. Now, it is a saturated market and not a new market for mass marketed products. Now, the focus has shifted to regional markets and that is where the growth is coming from and this, in turn, is benefitting the regional press in a major way.  Even the growing literacy levels in north India is driving this growth and I see a very bright future for print in India, especially for the languages.